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Uranium focus of lecture
Dr. Robert Moran speaks Monday about uranium mining during a lecture at the Virginia Museum of Natural History. Close to 50 people attended. (Contributed photo by Zach Ryder)
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer
A hydrogeologist from Colorado said Monday night that the uranium mining and milling industry has a history of contaminating water resources.
Robert E. Moran added that he is not aware of modern technology in that industry having a track record of adequately protecting water resources today.
Moran gave a talk and answered questions in a program that lasted more than an hour at the Virginia Museum of Natural History. Nearly 50 people attended the talk, titled "Uranium Mining: What You Need to Know." The Dan River Basin Association, an environmental group, sponsored it.
Moran said he was not saying that what has happened historically in the uranium mining and milling industry would happen under Virginia Uranium Inc.'s proposal to mine and mill uranium at Coles Hill in Pittsylvania County. He said there are many unknowns about the proposed operation, the company should make more information public, and the public should be asking questions.
"You need to think about long term, not short term. It's your kids and your grandkids that will have to deal with this," Moran said of the potential consequences of uranium mining and milling.
The Associated Press reported that Virginia Uranium Inc. is proposing to mine the 119-million-pound deposit in Pittsylvania County. It is believed to be the largest known deposit in the U.S. and the seventh-largest in the world.
Virginia has had a moratorium on uranium mining since 1982, when the General Assembly first took up the debate over allowing uranium mining in the state, the AP reported. The National Academies of Science is expected to release a study in December on the impact of uranium mining statewide. While it will not recommend whether Virginia should end the ban, the General Assembly is expected to rely heavily on the report's contents in deciding whether to take up the issue in 2012, the AP reported.
Virginia Uranium has said it will use the most environmentally sound methods to mine and process the ore. It also has said the mining would create hundreds of jobs and revenue in an area that relied heavily on textiles and tobacco, both in decline, the AP reported.
Moran has more than 39 years of domestic and international experience in conducting and managing water quality, geochemical and hydrogeologic work for private investors, industrial clients, tribal and citizens groups, nongovernmental organizations, law firms and governmental agencies, a flier for the meeting says.
Moran told the audience he was limiting his observations on environmental damage to water quality, not environmental damage caused by contaminated waste being blown by wind.
Among the points he made about the uranium mining and milling industry were:
"¢ Most operations that he is aware of are in drier, more sparsely populated areas.
"¢ Governments generally do not require large enough bonds of mining and milling companies to cover the perpetual costs of the site, including environmental cleanup and maintaining the site forever. He said those costs can be "phenomenal."�
After an operation closes, the ownership of the site is given to the federal government.
"¢ Governments generally inadequately enforce regulations on the industry intended to protect the public.
"¢ The industry goes through economic boom and bust cycles. A company may plan to operate a number of decades but close after only a few years if the price of uranium plummets.
"¢ There always are environmental impacts from mining and milling, and it may be many years before the impacts are known. That doesn't mean necessarily that a proposed operation should be rejected, but that the "tradeoffs" should be weighed.
"¢ He is not aware of any uranium Super Fund hazardous waste site in which a contaminated groundwater supply was totally cleaned up.
Among the points he made about Virginia Uranium's proposal were:
"¢ Not much specific information has been released.
"¢ Large amounts of water probably would be used, and the source of the water has not been made public. The wastewater probably would contain a number of contaminants.
"¢ A couple hundred private wells are located relatively near the site.
Moran made some observations based on extensive research that was done on the site in the 1980s, when Marline Uranium and Union Carbide were developing the project. Moran was part of a team involved in exploration and development of the Coles Hill deposit in the early 1980s, the flier says.
He said he expects the uranium mining study that will be released by the National Academy of Sciences will be "political" and with few hard recommendations. He also said his experience has been that studies that are funded by businesses tend to be biased.
The NAS study is funded by Virginia Uranium, according to its website.